St Mary"s Church (Mariakirken) construction is believed to have started in the 1130s or 40s and completed around 1180, making the church the oldest remaining building in Bergen. St Mary"s Church is the only remaining of twelve churches and three monasteries built in Bergen between its foundation during the reign of Olav Kyrre (1066–93, traditionally 1070) and the end of the twelfth century. Excavations have revealed the remains of an earlier stone church on the site, probably never completed. The exact year of the current church completion is unknown, but the church is mentioned in Sverris saga as where the rebels of the Birkebein Party sought refuge when attacked by a peasant army in 1183. St Mary"s Church is likely to have been built by craftsmen from Scania, then part of Denmark. The church"s style is remiscient of that of Lund Cathedral in Scania.
St Mary"s Church was significantly damaged in the town fire of 1198, caused by an attack on the city by the Bagli Party, enemies of the Birkebein Party. The rebuilding resulted in several architectural changes. Bergen burned again in 1248, a fire which caused an even greater degree of destruction to the church than the earlier fire. As part of the reconstruction after this fire, the towers were heightened and the chancel lengthened. The church was damaged in several later town fires, but never again destroyed to the same degree as in the fire of 1248.
Although having been built as a parish church for the Norwegian population of Bergen, St Mary"s Church was taken over by the city"s large German population in 1408. By belonging to the wealthy Germans, St Mary"s is richly adorned and escaped the fate of being turned into a ruin, unlike several of the other churches in the city. Not until 1874, long after the German domination in the city had vanished, did it again become an ordinary parish church, even though sermons were held in German until after the First World War. The most recent restoration of St Mary"s, led by architect Christian Christie, lasted from 1863–1876. The church will be closed for restoration work, Jan 2010 until 2015
St Mary"s Church is a two-towered, three-naved, mainly Romanesque style church. The eastern part of the choir shows some Gothic influence reminiscent of the Haakon"s Hall, likely caused by the reconstruction after the 1248 fire. The church is constructed mainly in soapstone, the oldest parts being built of the highest quality soapstone. Shale is used sporadically. At least three different types of soapstone is used, and it is likely that the stone comes from several different quarries in the district.References:
The Abbey of Saint-Etienne, also known as Abbaye aux Hommes ('Men"s Abbey'), is a former monastery dedicated to Saint Stephen (Saint Étienne). It is considered, along with the neighbouring Abbaye aux Dames ('Ladies" Abbey'), to be one of the most notable Romanesque buildings in Normandy. Like all the major abbeys in Normandy, it was Benedictine.
Lanfranc, before being an Archbishop of Canterbury, was abbot of Saint-Etienne. Built in Caen stone during the 11th century, the two semi-completed churches stood for many decades in competition. An important feature added to both churches in about 1120 was the ribbed vault, used for the first time in France. The two abbey churches are considered forerunners of the Gothic architecture. The original Romanesque apse was replaced in 1166 by an early Gothic chevet, complete with rosette windows and flying buttresses. Nine towers and spires were added in the 13th century. The interior vaulting shows a similar progression, beginning with early sexpartite vaulting (using circular ribs) in the nave and progressing to quadipartite vaults (using pointed ribs) in the sanctuary.
The two monasteries were finally donated by William the Conqueror and his wife, Matilda of Flanders, as penalty for their marriage against the Pope"s ruling. William was buried here; Matilda was buried in the Abbaye aux Dames. Unfortunately William"s original tombstone of black marble, the same kind as Matilda"s in the Abbaye aux Dames, was destroyed by the Calvinist iconoclasts in the 16th century and his bones scattered.
As a consequence of the Wars of Religion, the high lantern tower in the middle of the church collapsed and was never rebuilt. The Benedictine abbey was suppressed during the French Revolution and the abbey church became a parish church. From 1804 to 1961, the abbey buildings accommodated a prestigious high school, the Lycée Malherbe. During the Normandy Landings in 1944, inhabitants of Caen found refuge in the church; on the rooftop there was a red cross, made with blood on a sheet, to show that it was a hospital (to avoid bombings).